Tesco installs face-scanning technology so it can target you with ads

Graham Cluley
Graham Cluley
@[email protected]

TescoTesco, the humungous supermarket chain, is introducing face-scanning technology at its petrol stations – so it can target you with adverts.

The technology, produced by French-based Quividi in association with Alan Sugar’s company Amscreen, will be capable of determining customers’ gender and approximate age while they wait in a queue to pay, and show advertising on a nearby screen.

And this isn’t some small trial project – Tesco is installing the technology in all of its 450 petrol stations across the UK.

Ke Quang, Chief Operating Officer at Quividi, was at pains to stamp out any privacy concerns that members of the public might have about the face-scanning technology, telling The Guardian:

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“We don’t do facial recognition, we do face detection. It’s software which works from the video feed coming off the camera. It can detect if it’s seeing a face, but it never records the image or biomorphological information or traits. It picks up if it’s seeing a man or a woman, the amount of time they pay attention to the screen, and their presence in front of the screen. The key thing though is that it never records or remembers any information. If you go from one camera in one location to another, it can’t tell.”

Well, I certainly hope that’s right. But I’m sure I’m not the only person who finds the thought of this creepy and unpleasant.

A corporate video from Amscreen puts some spin on the face-detection system, and attempts to allay fears further.

Amscreen revolutionises ad industry with face tracking technology

Hmm. I still don’t like the idea.

It feels like our privacy is being slowly eroded, and further intruded upon time and again… Will it be any surprise in a few years time if technology like this is integrated with Facebook’s facial recognition database, to serve up adverts based upon our Likes?

Even if you don’t think this is a privacy issue, don’t you think we all deserve some peace and quiet from the relentless drone of advertising, bombarding us hundreds of time every day?

Seeing as I can’t bring myself to wear a baseball hat or balaclava, I guess I’ll have to make sure I always pay for my petrol at the pump in future…

What do you feel about Tesco using face-scanning technology? Take the poll below, and have your say by leaving a comment.

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Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

10 comments on “Tesco installs face-scanning technology so it can target you with ads”

  1. I exchanged tweets with tesco about this yesterday. They claimed that the scanning was to determine the demographic using the petrol station, not to serve customer specific ads immediately…

    1. Graham CluleyGraham Cluley · in reply to Jamie Stone

      Yes, that appears to be the plan right now.

      But what next? The pressure from advertisers to make this person-specific will be considerable.

      Our privacy is slipping away bit by bit…

      1. Jamie Stone · in reply to Graham Cluley

        I agree and it'll make me think twice about going to my local tescos filling station. Though hopefully they'll do a better job than Morrison's petrol station till advertising which 50% of the time shows ie6 with either a 500 error or connection unavailable…

  2. Call me old fashioned, but if Tesco really wanted to improve the "customer experience" in their petrol queues, how about just figuring out a way to make the queue move a bit quicker, rather than coming up with crazy schemes to fill the time while you're waiting?

  3. david

    best solution will not to fill from any tesco petrol
    stations till the others start the same shit the Uk government is
    against its own people the same as US so the masses need to rise up
    and confront the stupid UK gov.

  4. Completely disagree, It just reads like the normal #scareporn that you get from the Guardian these days
    – "But I’m sure I’m not the only person who finds the thought of this creepy and unpleasant."
    – If you walk in the shop and the shopkeeper recognises you and suggests a new product is that Creepy ?
    – "Good morning Mr Cluely you know that Orange Chocolate cake you buy, well why don't you try the new Banana Chocolate Cake ?"

    – Less privacy in 2013 than 1913 ? When you leave Tesco do you think the whole village is gossiping about your business like in 1913 ?

    – Big company bashing is simple & fashionable, but I find it ridiculous when corps like Tesco, Lidl , BigChicken factory have miles better professionalism and quality control than little businesses of 1913. (checkup on Victorian food adulteration etc,)

    1. Allan · in reply to Stew Green

      It doesn't take a lot of imagination to see what the likely result of rolling out this technology will be – targeting individuals wherever they go. This could be for commercial gain for now but is likely to gradually extend into the realms of social engineering and control. Unless you believe this definitely won't happen, you can hardly label Graham Cluley's piece as '#scareporn'.

      In your second point, are you seriously suggesting that a single shopkeeper (or the proprietor) is on equal footing with a multinational company in day-to-day, personal interactions with you?

      But you may be right about the shopkeeper not being 'creepy' if asking me to try the new product so openly – I would recognise that as a clumsy and irritating attempt to guess my likes and dislikes in order to increase sales.

      Maybe I'm reading a shortened version, but I can't see where Graham Cluley states that 1913 was a more private time and place to live. Or even mentions the year, come to that.

      The speculating gossip in the village of 1913 was from a different far-off culture. Do you think it eclipses even Tesco's knowing the time, place and amount of this and previous transactions on your Clubcard, the numberplate recognition when you drive off and at strategic points on your journey, along with the 4–5.9 million CCTV cameras covering the rest of the country?

      Bashing big companies because it's 'simple & fashionable'? That wouldn't be fair-minded and I'd always applaud genuinely improved standards. However, don't you think it would be naive to accept the big companies' activities uncritically and with no reservations?

  5. Tiggerjennifer

    The government already spies on our phone calls. ..who's to say they wouldnt get their grubby hands on this piece of technology! Besides we are advertised enough! I am gonna start doing what my grandfather used to do… mute the commercials! Enough already!

  6. Martin

    Well I don't buy my petrol at Tesco's anyway but even if I did, there would not be much point in going elsewhere in protest. The thing is that this sort of stuff will become the norm soon so I am afraid we will all have to get used to it.

    With the Near Field Coms and RFID technologies now rolling out, you can expect to see smart marketing and personalized ads target you this way everywhere you go. It won't just be based on gender and age either but also your purchasing history, social media interactions and any other data that has been gathered on you.

    The age of big data and big brother is well and truly here and IMHO we are putting truly breathtaking amounts of power into the hands of some already powerful companies and individuals.

  7. SvQMedia

    Last time I buy fuel at Tesco…

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